Time runs out for Gaza evacuees

On Sunday, the Shirat Hayam Hotel in Ashkelon plans to evict some 29 families living there.

gaza settlers 88 (photo credit: )
gaza settlers 88
(photo credit: )
The word “fair” made Gaza evacuee Jay Aizen jump out of his chair in anger and start shouting. His face was as red as the baseball cap he wore. “That's bullshit,” he yelled at the Disengagement Authority representative who told him that the government had acted fairly with regard to him and other evacuated settlers from Gaza. In his anger, the US immigrant slipped momentarily into his native English. The two men were sitting in the lobby of the Shirat Hayam Hotel in Ashkelon this week assessing the possibilities available to the eight members of the Aizen family, who have been living in three hotel rooms for close to two months. They are no closer to finding a home now than they were when they arrived. The hotel's plans to, by Sunday, evict him and the 29 other families living there have added an extra element of pressure to the situation. The government will house the families in another hotel, but many do not want to endure a second move, to the extent that Aizen and a number of other families plan to refuse to leave. Only after the hotel's decision to close was made have the Aizens learned that they have been charged NIS 300 a night since October 6 because, having not yet settled on a temporary home, they were among the families whose hotel subsidies have been cut by the government. What's stumping Aizen at present is the question of where to live while he works out the details of his family's future. In the long term, he expects to receives compensation funds from the government to build a new home, but there is no saying when these funds will arrive or how much the family will receive. He is already anticipating that he will have to sue the government for what he considers the full value of his loss. In the meantime, while the government has budgeted a two-year span in which settlers can build permanent homes and receive a rental subsidy, Aizen feels stuck between what appears to him as two untenable options for that period after his government-sponsored hotel stay expires at the end of October. It's a problem he has been kicking around since he returned from the US at the end of July, where he had been on a three-month assignment as a consultant. He could sign a two-year contract for an 80-meter modular home provided by the government. With six children, however, it would be a drastic shift from life in the 350-meter home he built with a porch off every bedroom. His other option is to spend $300 of his own money on top of the $550 rental subsidy to rent an apartment or a home large enough to fit his family more comfortably. In addition to the monetary cost, however, that move would also isolate him from friends and former neighbors who have chosen the modular home route. “It's like asking me if I want to jump into the sea or a fire,” Aizen said. He believes the government is responsible for providing him with a home of equivalent value even during this two-year period, but at this point, he said, he would settle for something even one-third the size. “Be smart. Spend the money, rent the home,” advised the representative, as he put his hand protectively on Aizen's, now that the 61-year-old former Elei Sinai resident had calmed down from his outburst and was again sitting in his chair. But Aizen was incredulous that the government wouldn't simply provide him with a home big enough for his family. “Why should I have to pay money because the government kicked me out of my house?” he asked. Having already once in his life saved for and built his own home, he now fears that he will have to waste his money on rental costs and not have enough funds left to build another. That fear is also present when he considers signing a two-year contract for a modular home. If the modular home doesn't work for his family and they want to leave it, they stand to lose all rental subsidies, he said. Hindsight would be helpful here, Aizen mused, looking at the pool and palm trees outside the hotel lobby. “All my options are fraught with big defects,” he said. Each day of waiting in the hotel is a financial loss for the Aizens. With their possessions in storage, they have found themselves spending money on both replacement items and the storage itself. Even examining the possibilities is expensive. The Aizens are looking at a rental in Ashkelon, but the owner lives in Switzerland, and this means international calls and faxes. What makes it hard, Aizen told The Jerusalem Post, is that it's a risk either way. He knows of a Gaza family that, having initially rented a place, is now looking to join a modular community of settlers instead because their children feel isolated. “We are afraid of that, too,” he said. With his blue floral Hawaiian shirt, Aizen looks more like a tourist on vacation than a frustrated, cynical evacuee with no home. “This isn't how I usually dress,” Aizen later told the Post following the exchange with the Disengagement Authority representative. The Hawaiian shirt was the only clean one he had left, he said. The red Phillies baseball cap hid his poor haircut from the day before. “Even in a crisis, you have to deal with bad hair days,” he said. The Zionist fervor Aizen felt when he came to Israel from Philadelphia in 1974 has soured. In different times, he said, he and his wife Pnina so admired Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that the couple named their youngest son Arik after him. They even invited Sharon to the circumcision. Sharon declined, but when the prime minister visited Elei Sinai later that year he asked to see the baby and held him in his arms. They have photos, but those are in storage along with the rest of their possessions. Aizen recalled how he and his wife Pnina had slowly built their home on the sea's edge in north Gaza. Thinking about how it had been reduced to a pile of rubble brought tears to his eyes. “It wasn't just a house,” Aisen said. “It was something I spent years of my life developing and designing. I built it myself.” He had wanted to take everything, including the tiles, but in the end he didn't even manage to get out all of his possessions. Only after the house had been torn down did he remember storing old record albums like Sylvester the Seal in the attic along with some sentimental letters and other mementos. “I look at the 15 years of my life in Elei Sinai as a waste of time,” he said bitterly. “I trust nothing about this country. I feel rejected and betrayed by everything I believed in.” He has even considered the option of returning to the United States, but is hesitant to give up his 30-year investment in Israel. It's more likely, he said, that he will move up north with a small number of Gaza families, but the plans have yet to be finalized. Aizen said he feels like the character of Tevya from the Shalom Aleichem play Fiddler on the Roof, who was chased out of his village in Russia. “Except that I am living in Israel, for God's sake,” he said.
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